“I had my first piano lesson at 7. My parents were trying to get rid of me, so they enrolled me in after school piano lessons at my elementary school. I liked the music. I related to it emotionally. I was an extremely hyperactive kid and music seemed like a good way to express my emotions. Afterwards I told my parents, ‘I want to go back.’ When I was 10, I met my first serious piano teacher. Genya is Russian, very loving but very tough. She said ‘You’ve been playing wrong and you’re very far behind but I can fix you. I just need three years and you need to work really hard.’ I wanted to be a pianist so badly I didn’t care how many hours I had to practice. It was home from school. Dinner at 3:30. Straight to the piano. Practice four to eight hours. Homework last. I wouldn’t always sleep a lot. I didn’t hang out with people much because I was always practicing. Music was all I had.
I like solo recitals best, but I get extremely nervous. I’m shaking, nauseous. I don’t even wanna go on stage. To keep myself focused, I tell myself a story. For example the piece I’m playing now by the composer Schnittke, is very angular and dance-like, I imagine these weird characters, not really human, maybe circus characters. At the end there’s a climax with lots of cluster chords and very loud sounds. Then it just completely relaxes. I imagine the characters turning to ash, barely alive, trying to stay together. If it’s a good performance, I feel good. At 15, Genya told me, it probably wouldn’t work out for me to be a solo pianist. That’s why I went more into composition. I’ve always loved composition. I composed my first piece at 9 for piano and vibraphone. It was 30 seconds. I can take a situation or a feeling and put music to it. I can take people’s personalities—if they’re super speedy and loud and talk a lot and say weird things—and imitate them in my music. My goal is to get into a college with a great contemporary music program. I’ll probably have to do a lot of non-music-related stuff in order to make my music career work. It’s a little out of my comfort zone but I’m not gonna stop.”
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